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Schwarzenegger may release 38,000 prisoners early

On Jan. 10, 2008, it was 22,000. This past New Year's Eve, it was 15,000. Two weeks ago Friday, it was 8,000.

Now, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration — looking down the barrel again at a massive budget crisis — is talking about letting 38,000 inmates out of prison before their time is up.

Proposals 1 and 2 never got off the ground when the governor's budget writers eventually found the money to keep the prisons full. More recently, the administration never followed up with legislation to enact the early releases corrections Secretary Matt Cate announced on April 24.

The latest early release proposal has some legislators thinking they've heard this story line before.

"It reminds me of the saying, it's déjà vu all over again," said Assemblyman Jose Solorio, D-Santa Ana, the chairman of the lower house's Public Safety Committee.

Unlike its past early release plans, the Schwarzenegger administration says it can commute prisoner sentences under the California Constitution "on conditions the governor deems proper" – without buy-in from the Legislature.

Still, Solorio said there are enough legislators like him who are opposed to wide-scale early releases "that it would never be done in such a devastating way to communities." He contends that early releases should be coupled with an "incentive" plan that rewards good behavior in prison.

Illegal immigrants would account for about half the 38,000 inmates up for release under the Schwarzenegger plan. The state already has agreements to turn undocumented parolees over to the federal government for deportation. Remanding noncitizen prisoners would require another pact with the feds, administration sources said.

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